Tom Purcell

Life for kids is harder today than ever before, and I offer up proof: According to a variety of news reports, many elementary schools are eliminating recess.

Why would schools do such a heartless thing? Well, these days, teachers are expected to teach kids everything from manners to self-esteem. Teachers need to use recess time to slip in a little math and science.

Besides, recess is nothing but a lawsuit waiting to happen. When kids get hurt on the playground, lawyers jump out of bushes - so you can't entirely fault schools for eliminating playtime, and that's a shame.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, kids were allowed to be kids. In the summers, we played from morning until dark. Unlike today's youngsters, we annoyed our parents by spending too LITTLE time in the house, prompting two common demands:

"You better be home on time for supper!"

"You better be home when the street lamps turn on!"

Recess was a big part of my life at St. Germaine Catholic School. Every day, we had a nice long break to run like wild animals out in the parking lot. It was the only place where a kid could build up enough speed to outrun the nuns.

It was on the playground that I developed self-esteem by becoming the king of keep-away. We played kickball, caught football and played "it" tag. And we were so refreshed afterward, we were able to endure the torturous math and science lessons that made up the rest of the day.

But kids don't get to be kids much anymore. They're shut inside a classroom from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. As soon as they get home, the structure continues.

Because many parents only have one or two children, they're able to lavish them with lessons. Kids don't play soccer, they go to soccer school. They don't play pickup baseball, they go to the batting academy. They have piano lessons, chess club, math tutoring and so on.

That's why recess is more important now than it ever was. Kids need the free time to explore and play and run free. It's the only chance they have in their rigid universe to let loose and learn how to socialize with other kids, uninterrupted by adults.

But I argue it isn't just kids who need recess. Adults should begin to embrace it, too. So many of us are so busy keeping up with the pressures of our specialized jobs - juggling schedules, working long hours to keep our jobs or working two or three jobs to keep up with our bills - that maybe we should have a little free time to blow off steam, too.

Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell, author of "Comical Sense: A Lone Conservative Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!" and "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood," is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist syndicated nationally by Cagle Cartoons. Visit him on the web at